SO YOU WENT to a New Year's Eve party, to another horn-screeching, group-groping mass countdown to midnight with the same people who couldn't count through "The Twelve Days of Christmas." And now Monday really will be the first day of the rest of your life.

Who says New Year's is such a hoot, anyway? What's to celebrate? Not the mere passage of time -- the drooping ambitions, the loss of elasticity . . . and definitely not the murky onset of bill-paying season. (Who do you think Janus was watching with that other head? After all, he couldn't leave home without it.)

No, if there's any consolation to New Year's, it's that the momentary straddling of two calendars suggests a continuity and security that belie those imposed time limits. There is life afterLombardo.

So tonight, start over. Forget Times Square and start a timeless tradition: Lay out a leisurely, luxurious dinner ,a deux, and slip into the future with your Significant Other. You can still kiss at midnight if you want, but if you're gazing too deeply into one another's eyes to watch the clock, so much the better.

You're going the extra mile in style this time, so look over your china. If you haven't four really striking plates, run out to the nearest antiques dealer and hunt up two pairs with presence. (You need salad plates, too, though each pair could be different.) Avoid busy -- keep the flowers simple -- and absolutely refuse any chilly/formal virginal white plates with gold hems; they look like caterer's castoffs. On the other hand, your dinner will have some strong colors, so look for sophisticated pales like gray or peach, even teal or lavender if you know a good Deco depository. Ditto the crystal -- champagne flutes, of course. This is one night to indulge in the best bubbly before, during and after. And after that. If you can find flutes with tinted stems to match the plates, fine. Antique cut glass can be especially beautiful by candlelight; but there are plenty of attractive contemporary designs with flame-catching facets or spiral etching.

Now, as to the menu. You want atmosphere, esthetics, ,elan . . . but in small doses. And slowly. It's hard to be romantic with indigestion.

Start with a textural surprise -- artichoke and chestnuts. Buy two whole baby artichokes, trim the stems and any stray leaves, and steam. Slice in half from crown to heart (they haven't developed spines, so they can be eaten whole). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or with a tiny amount of the juices from good gingery chutney thinned with nut oil. Top with six or eight whole roasted chestnuts; they are a smooth and slightly sweet complement to the sturdy, meaty artichoke.

The second course is a stunner, stolen once again (actually borrowed, with permission) from chef Louis Osteen of the Pawley's Island Inn. He tops avocado blini with fresh crab meat as an hors d'oeuvre, but we're going to use them as a bed for slices of lobster tail and caviar.

For the blini: beat as much flour as you can into two (room temperature) eggs; add the meat of two very ripe avocados. Beat until no lumps remain. Then add milk to make a medium batter, salt and white pepper to taste. Cook on a griddle or heavy skillet.

Having previously steamed two chicken lobsters and let them cool, carefully cut open the underside of each tail with kitchen shears. With a heavy, sharp knife, cut the tail smoothly at the body. Remove the meat and slice evenly. Crack the claws gently and try to remove the meat in one mitten-shaped piece.

When the blini are ready, warm the lobster meat in melted (whole, not clarified) butter; arrange the slices across the blini, dribble melted butter over the top and, if you like, garnish with a little caviar. (In case you didn't notice, this leaves you two lobster bodies and their legs for secret noshing at some future date.)

Believe it or not, there's more. The meat course is medallions of venison, whose velvety richness echoes the opening chestnut movement, but with just a touch of sweet- tart sauce to prevent sensory overdose.

Thinly slice golden bell peppers and slowly saut,e in butter; don't let them brown. Remove and arrange the slices in a circle in the middle of the dinner plate. Add the medallions to the pan and brown very gently; remove with slotted spoon and place on the peppers. Then add a couple of minced shallots, another half bell pepper and two hot peppers in julienne strips, and the zest of half an orange; after a few minutes, deglaze with a little Grand Marnier and a bracing dash of cognac. Spoon the sauce with the veggies onto the medallions. Side with baby whole turnips or crunchy brussels sprouts.

After all this, dessert is probably unnecessary, but a single chocolate truffle never killed anybody. And after that . . . it's the diner's choice.